After a gap of 31 years, Indian military is acquiring 145 modern artillery guns from BAE Systems for $737 million. The first two American-made M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzers (ULH) were delivered to the Indian Army on Thursday.
India's last acquisition of field guns were made in March 1986 when about 410 pieces of the Swedish made Bofors' FH-77B 155mm/39 calibre howitzer were bought for approximately Rs 1,400 crores. The ensuing Bofors gun deal bribery scandal, which involved politicians allegedly receiving kickbacks, led to a complete cap on the purchase of field guns. Successive governments stayed away from upgrading artillery fearing a repeat.
A new weapon system
The M-777 ultra light howitzers will be primarily used by the newly-raised Mountain Strike Corps in the northern borders of the country.
After a series of border transgressions by the Chinese People's Liberation Army(PLA) and an aggressive Chinese posture, the UPA Government raised a corp solely dedicated to the Northern borders.
The M-777 howitzers are made of titanium. Each gun weighs about 4,000 kg . Therefore, they can be carried by CH-47 Chinook helicopters and also on heavy lift aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster and the C-130 Hercules transporters. Besides, they can be moved easily on trucks in the mountains.
M-777 manufacturer BAE's spokesperson told Huffpost India, "In fulfillment of the United States' Foreign Military Sale of 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers to India, the first two weapon systems land in India ahead of schedule. We continue to support the US Government in integrating this new weapon system with the Indian Army's artillery modernization program."
Importance of 'ultra-light'
India will be buying 145 guns from BAE Systems. The first 25 guns will be delivered to the Indian Army in "ready-to-use" condition. The remaining 120 guns will be assembled by Mahindra in India.
India currently has about 18 units of Bofors guns. And, despite efforts to manufacture spares for the guns in India, serviceability is a problem. "Only seven out of 10 guns are broadly available, at given time, for deployment," said Brigadier Swapan Chatterjee a former artillery officer. "India needs about 3,000 guns to upgrade its artillery."
Former Director General of Artillery Lieutenant General Vijay Narula told HuffPost "the arrival M-777 guns is good news for India. They can be used in the traditional role as well. But importantly, they are lighter and carried be moved faster."
Keeping in mind the security situation of immediate the neighbourhood, Indian military planners have been asked to be ready for a short and intense conflict where mobilisation of troops and weapons platforms have to be almost immediate.
"Future conflicts will be short and intense. Our threat primarily lies in the mountains, the M-777 guns gives the ability to move our resources quickly," Brigadier Chatterjee (Retd) said explaining the importance of the ultra light howitzers.